By Wesley Walter
Editor’s note: Students were notified on Feb. 23 through their university email that UM’s mask mandate will be lifted starting Feb. 25.
Updated at 10:05 on Feb. 26, 2022 to correct the bill number. Updated at 4:18 p.m. on March 1, 2022 to correct acronym AACSB
The Feb. 11 UM Faculty Senate meeting saw senate members discussing a number of important changes coming to UM’s campus.
One such issue was the evolving status of COVID-19 on campus and the possibility of UM removing its mask mandate this semester.
Faculty Senate President Dr. Ray Ozley began his President’s Report by discussing the potential removal of UM’s mask mandate. Ozley reported that the COVID-19 Task Force has seen cases on campus go down despite the recent omicron outbreak and is considering removing the mask mandate sometime this semester.
Ozley said of this potential change, “Various people on campus are ready to remove the masks and the Task Force is ready to start discussing that as an option. I want to emphasize no decisions have been made yet but that is on the table now.” According to Ozley, the usage of masks is expected to continue in clinical settings.
Regarding COVID-19 and athletics, Ozley said that, “There’s discussion about the athletics moving away from testing when there’s symptoms to just treating the symptoms which seems to be a general movement”
Another issue discussed was the potential effects of Alabama House Bill 312, commonly referred to as the Critical Race Theory Bill.
The bill, which aims to restrict public learning institutions’ ability to teach on “divisive concepts” related to race, gender and religion could potentially jeopardize UM’s accreditation. This is due to many accrediting organizations requiring certain diversity and inclusivity measures that may be restricted by the bill in order to receive accreditation.
Dr. Eric Travis spoke on these threats to accreditation saying, “The College of Business, we have a separate accreditation, the AACSB, which is you know pretty respected in terms of the business world. Ray and I talked about this. They specifically have two out of three of their standards for accreditation as aspects of diversity and inclusion.”
During the President’s Report Ozley also briefly discussed the projected 2026 enrollment cliff: a drop-off in college enrollment rates due to the decrease in birth rates beginning in 2008. Regarding the cliff, Ozley said, “the data suggest that males are our target audience because the large percentage of available students are males so there’s encouragement for us to brainstorm on ways that we might help recruit male students.”
Ozley announced the university is planning to keep its subscription to Box, a cloud-based data storage program. Box was previously going to be dropped due to its high cost. Ozley, however, reported that the price has gone down significantly, allowing the university to keep the program. Ozley, explaining the situation said, “The decision to drop Box was purely financial because the cost was going to be in excess of six figures and now it’s down to 25,000.”
Following the President’s Report, the Academic Policy Committee began its report on its attempts to update and streamline UM’s academic dishonesty policy.
Committee member, Professor Kyle Moore said, “There seems to be a good bit of debate on how heavy-handed the punishment should be for academic dishonesty.”
Moore also gave an overview of the issues the committee is considering saying, “Do we add another council, another group that meets to deal with academic dishonesty? Do we put it on the honors council? Which committee kind of takes care of dealing with academic dishonesty?”
The committee is also considering setting up a streamlined way of reporting instances of academic dishonesty online through a digital form. Dr. Jennifer Rickel said, “A lot of people are really frustrated I think with how long it takes to report. It’s very time-consuming… If that changes, I think you will get a lot more faculty buy-in.”
Dr. Stephanie Dean reported on behalf of the Technology Advisory Council Committee that she was meeting with IS&T to help figure out ways to connect digital devices that cannot go through FalconNet’s authentication system to the internet.
Brief reports were made to the senate by two guest speakers, UM Student Government Association President AnaKate Andrasko, and Interim Provost Dr. Courtney Bentley.
Andrasko provided the senate with a brief series of announcements regarding SGA. She announced that SGA had finalized its bill to replace the net on UM’s sand volleyball court. Andrasko also announced that SGA is currently looking for a Director of Sports Promotion.
Following Andrasko’s announcements, Bentley spoke to the senate about the possibility of UM adopting new degree evaluation and advising programs to streamline advising and the management of transfer credits. Bentley announced that Degreeworks, a web-based tool used to monitor students’ progress towards degree completion, is one program being considered to fill this role.
Regarding the potential changes, Bentley said, “If there is still, or you believe interest among faculty to adopt a program like Degreeworks we are in a position to move forward.”
Ozley presented several students’ concerns expressed to the senate by SGA including students’ desire to put panic buttons in several locations on campus including bathrooms and students’ desire for a fall break.
Finally, Ozley gave his report on a survey that will be released to faculty to gauge their satisfaction with the university’s advising system and the formation of a new committee to oversee issues related to advising.
This survey and the new committee will help develop future changes to advising in order to better meet the needs of advisors.